Notes

Overcoming writer’s block . . .

Get rid of the fear of the blank page once and for all!

A blank page.

A cursor blinking.

Typed words begin to appear: I don’t even know where to start because my head is filled with more false starts than good ideas but maybe if I just start typing, something will eventually come out and it will be fantastic because there is a chance it will lead to questions, uncover buried thoughts, giving me more ideas (“let your mind run fast and free” so says the writer’s handbook currently sitting on my lap), or at least I will have some words on the page to justify my time sitting in front of this computer and calling myself an author. . . .

via giphy.com

Blaaap.

Brain barfing, as my six-year-old calls it (or “brainstorming” as it’s more formally called), is one way of overcoming writer’s block. But the best way to get rid of that blank page altogether is . . . research.

So let’s go back a bit. What inspired you to write your story?

Was it something you read in an article or heard on the news? Some new knowledge you obtained? A setting? A “what if” question? A personal experience?

Maybe you can’t even remember how you came up with the idea, but you will know this one: What is your story going to be about? That is, what is your story’s arc?

For example, who is your protagonist? What is their challenge? What is the resolution?

Writing is a process of uncovering. Opening your senses. Finding out answers. Divulging into the human psyche. It is also simply a process, following a series of steps to get to the finished product.

So take a deep breath and step back to that place where your story began. What experience and authority do you have to tell this story? According to bestselling author Elizabeth George in her upcoming book Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel, this is where research comes in because not only will the background information you acquire give you dominion and accuracy, it will also inspire plot elements you would not have considered, even giving rise to the characters who will people your world.

In this case, research doesn’t mean scouring the Internet. There, you may only expose the surface. And you might miss the emotions evoked when physically encountering a situation, walking through a setting, or listening to someone recount their experience. If your research is in depth, your use of it will be seamless and, as George says, it will “eliminate the fear of the blank page.”

Notes

4 Reasons to use a style sheet . . .

What is a style sheet? And why use one?

A style sheet is a document editors and authors use to record all the style decisions they make for a particular manuscript, often different from those found in a style manual or in-house style guide. They inform the author and editor about spelling choices, punctuation, numbers/dates, capitalization practices, abbreviations, and so on. You can also use it to list characters names, acceptable dialogue tags, formatting choices, hyphenated/unusual compound words, and foreign words, as well as anything unusual that should be noted.

For example, an author of a science fiction book may decide that the computer’s dialogue is always in Courier font and underlined. Another example might be the spelling of “okay”—perhaps the author wants “okay” to be always written as “OK.”

A style sheet is important because it:

  • ensures consistency—in both text and design;
  • maintains the author’s voice;
  • provides a reference for anyone working on the manuscript; and
  • can be used for all the books in a series.

Here is a sample of a style sheet that you are welcome to use:

Style Sheet

Notes

Don’t leave your manuscript without style . . . at least put some “clothes” on it

I receive a lot of manuscripts from self-published authors that have been manually formatted. That is, the manuscript is littered with unnecessary extra returns, spaces, tabs etc., all used in an attempt to format.

If you want your book to look like a professional publication, you need a consistent and cleanly formatted book. The best way to do that, if you are using Microsoft Word, is by taking advantage of MW’s Built-in Styles. (Click here for a video tutorial.) Plus, formatting with Styles means you can create a Table of Contents using MW’s TOC feature, which automatically creates hyperlinks to each chapter or section—great for eBooks, amirite?

Most professional editors know how to use MW’s Styles and will happily format your manuscript using Styles for you. However, if you have a limited budget, you can shave hours off the editing process (and thus, the cost of editing) by formatting your own book before you send it to your editor.

Even if, in the final stages of editing, you want to (or you want your editor to) customize the format, it is so much easier to modify the Style already in place than to go into the manuscript, delete all unwanted paragraph returns, spaces, tabs, etc., and then add and modify Styles.

Think of it this way, if MW’s Styles were clothes, then without them, you’d be sending your editor a naked manuscript. . . .

Notes

I am a reader, and I judge a book by its cover.

I did not edit the book in this image. The book was published by Random House, but I posted it here because it is a pretty awesome book cover.

I know that for self-publishers, coming up with a cover image for your book may be difficult and expensive. But just a stroll through your local bookstore can give you ideas of what to do and not to do. The goal is to try to make your book not look amateur.

If you can’t afford a designer, my best advice is keep it simple.  Make sure the title of the book and your name are not obstructed by the image (if there is one). Use colours well to create contrast (click here for information on the colour wheel) so that the title of your book is legible from far away. Choose an image that has meaning to the book (for free images, click here). Avoid glossy covers. And make sure your jacket copy has been edited!

So the next time you go to your local bookstore (or art gallery even!), bring a paper and pen (or your phone) and make note of the designs you like best and, more importantly, why you are drawn to them. Don’t forget that readers really do judge books by their covers.

Notes

You need an editor. I can edit.

Welcome! If your document needs professional editing, please contact me. My specialties include speculative fiction, mysteries, and spy and crime novels. I also welcome young adult and children’s fiction and travel memoirs.